Brother can you spare a…Canadian dollar?

I can’t remember many times when a Canadian dollar exchanged for more than a US dollar. It was a matter of US national pride that “a Canadian dollar is, well, not as good as ours”.

It is something you like to look at – the Canadians know how to put out a pretty bill! – but you never accept one in exchange for goods or services because “their” dollar historically was somewhere between 80+ cents and 90+ cents, but never 100 US cents. Besides, our banks won’t mess with them. Get one in change, you roll up your penny loss, your quarter screwing, whatever: “Don’t get mad, get even” is an expression started by an American who got a Canadian coin in change.

“To get that Canadian coin in change”: Ugh! It brings out the worst behaviors in all people who come in contact with it. Canadian coins are suspiciously similar in size and heft, though visually they look very different from US coins. That’s why people hide them under and in US coins handed to clerks, friends owed money, or banks, hoping they’ll slip past unnoticed.

They rarely do:

“I’m sorry. We can’t accept Canadian money.”

Of course, I kept my head on straight, and the problem soon disappeared.

Of course, I kept my head on straight, and the problem soon disappeared.

“Well, you gave me the &#^%$%# thing the last time I was here!!!”

“Sorry, sir. It is against store policy to accept Canadian money.”

“I’ll never again buy another $&^%*#&$ thing in this rip-off joint.”

“Sir! Sir! Please lower your voice and watch your tongue! There are children here!”

“Maybe they’ll take this *$&#^% Canadian quarter, then!” [Mad customer tosses Canadian coin into the store with one last burst of profanity before the police answer the 911 call from the store…]

"She ain't my queen!"

“She ain’t my queen!”

Long before the Royal Canadian Mint quit making Canadian pennies, most of their production migrated south to the States anyway. I’m sure most Canadians don’t know a Canadian penny when they see one, so many of them ended up in US pockets, dresser drawers, “lost” on parking lots, and stuffed in kid’s piggy banks to become a valuable life lesson about hurt, deception, and perfidy.


My personal worst case was a $10 roll of quarters (25 cent pieces) I got at my bank one time. Not only had someone slipped a US nickel (5 cent piece) into the roll, they also packed a Canadian quarter into the same roll! So, instead of $10 worth of quarters, I got $9.55 in US coinage, and one Canadian quarter. I just suffered the loss: “How do we know you didn’t put the nickel and the Canadian quarter in that roll?”

In the past five years, the Canadian dollar’s seen some good times compared with its American cousin. I’m just surprised the US dollar is as high as it is, considering the all-out efforts of the US Congress to turn this country into a banana republic with currency at least as convertible as Confederate States of America dollars. Yeah, yeah, I know that’s a cheap shot and that these matters are more complex than good governance = strong dollars.

All said, though, I still hate it when someone slips me a Canadian penny or a quarter bearing QEII’s profile. Grrr! Of course, if someone wants to slip me one of those new polymer CAN$100s, I’ll overlook their bad manners.

Now that I think about it, those plucky Canadians introduced dinosaur quarters that glow in the dark, too! Heck, I’d accept one of those in change any day!

8 thoughts on “Brother can you spare a…Canadian dollar?

    • Yes, but we all do it! Ha! It’s only after the tenth ot 20th person refuses to take the penny that it ends up in a child’s piggy bank or used in a parking meter, if one can find one that only uses pennies…!!

      I note that putting the penny in one of those small containers many merchants provide for pennies you don’t want in change is OK and (actually!) the best idea I’ve had on what to do with the dang things. It just occurred to me that one can do this!

      Sleight of hand might be necessary to slip your Canadian pennies into these containers, but these pennies don’t usually circulate beyond the cash register for the most part: no harm’s done as the pennies are sort of “the peoples’ pennies”, everyone’s and no one’s.

      No one suffers a loss or is victimized, if the customers and store clerk work it right. That is to say, the customer puts it in the penny pot if it shows up in change; the store changes it for a US cent taken from the penny pot if one accidentally gets into the cash register.

      I think you and I have resolved the age-old issue of what to do with Canadian coins pawned off on us in change! Of course, in time, the only pennies in the penny pots will be Canadian pennies, which can be collected annually to toss in Salvation Army pots at Christmas time. Now, that is evil!

      • I refuse to go through the expensive procedures to get a passport – kinda defeats the purpose of crossing the border to save money.

        Well, since we gave up the penny here, the least I can give you is a nickel! And apparently our paper money looks like monopoly money … however, we now have some denominations in “plastic” – really cool.
        BTW, maybe you can answer a question I have been wondering about: does your paper money have braille on them? I’m curious …

      • I always enjoyed the diversity of money designs while travelling. US money always looked bland by comparison. I especially liked the currencies that came in different sizes, depending on denomination.

        Of course, more and more color and counterfeit-foiling features in new US designs means we finally are beginning to have money more in line with the rest of the world, though nothing as cool as your new polymer bills! For that matter, the bills the polymer bills replace were pretty cool, too!

        I hope you realize there is satire in the post above. I am NOT one of those lunkheads who thinks all things American are somehow superior to all other things created by the rest of humanity, and that includes coinage and currency.

        The US Bureau of Engraving and Printing has information on design features of new bills. Instead of Braille, the denomination is printed in large sans serif numerals in one spot on the bills. My understanding is this is because the raised bumps become unreadable before the life of the bill is done. The polymer bill neatly gets around that!

        Here’s a curious fact about US currency: The paper is rag paper, specifically cotton from bleached scraps of denim recycled from jeans manufacture! Levis sells the paper manufacturer (Cross) their waste.

        With any luck, that link will take you back to an article about a border town that grew up on both sides of the border. I understand these circumstances and how they complicate life. I wouldn’t get a passport so I could go shopping across town in those circumstances, either!

        I don’t accept Canadian nickels, either, though they might work in parking meters… IF there are parking meters that still use nickels. My town got rid of parking meters years ago.

        Hey, I love the whole idea of Canada! How many Americans do you know who have a book on Canadian history, printed in Canada, with Canadian biases? I do! (Remember my blog post from 2009 on history?) It’s a great alternative reading of events I learned about as a kid, reading American-biased texts. I try not to be stupid about things, like so many of my flag-waving countrymen!

  1. You should collect all your Canadian coins and visit Maine or New Hampshire. Many businesses accept them at par – especially in the northern parts of the states – ’cause there’s so just so many! When I was a kid the Maine Turnpike used to accept Canadian money as toll at a small premium to the exchange rate (so if rate was 1C$ = 90UScents, they’d take 1C$ for 80UScents in toll).

    • When I was station in Germany in the early 1970s, it was the same thing. Smart people learned where to exchange their dollars for Deutsche Marks and vice versa, then others felt ripped off when they paid a city bus fare with US coins at 1.2DM per US$1 rather than the then-best exchange rate at American Express of 1.68DM per US$1.

      Proximity to a large American community that added a great deal to the local economy meant Germans were willing to deal with the hassle of exchanging dollars for DMs, but there always was a premium attached of less value per dollar accepted in the local economy than at a proper bank.

      Coins always cost more to exchange, so I made a practice of maintaining a very small volume on hand, preferring to use bills instead. When I left Germany at the end of my tour, I had four DM and a 2DM coin left. I didn’t have any particular need to buy anything, so I gave the 6DM (less than US$4 at the exchange rate then) to a legless WWII veteran (German…) I saw at a bus stop.

      I suspect the Canadian/US dollar business along the NE border is common along the entire border since, historically, people routinely lived and worked across borders when it wasn’t as rigidly patrolled and controlled till 9-11. Same along the US/Mexican border. I suspect it still is that way, if more of a hassle.

      I, however, live roughly 560 miles (roughly 900 km) from the Canadian border. A bank might exchange Canadian currency for a price much less favorable than a bank closer to the border, but they won’t even touch coins, even the higher denomination coins Canadians have ($1 and $2). I suspect you’d have to have a high dollar amount of Canadian bills before they’d even exchange them for you.

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